When a central defensive team have scored more goals in a tournament than they have conceded, they are doing a good job. And the Netherlands pairing Karim Rekik and Terence Kongolo are yet to be beaten at the UEFA European Under-17 Championship.
Rekik scored in the opening 2-0 Group B defeat of Germany, when he and Feyenoord club-mate Kongolo repelled all pressure. In the second game Romania seldom worried them as a 1-0 victory clinched first place, allowing coach Albert Stuivenberg to rest Kongolo in Monday's 0-0 draw with the Czech Republic.
On Thursday the pair are set to resume their partnership in the semi-final against England in Novi Sad. With their team having only conceded four goals in 14 games this season, and on a run of five consecutive clean sheets, things are going according to plan. "I have enjoyed it very much," Rekik told UEFA.com. "There have been lots of different opponents and we have won almost every game with zero goals against us."
Their partnership was formed long before their first international call-up. "We have played together for eight years from the same club, Feyenoord, and we know each other very well," Rekik said. "He's very fast and he has very long legs so every time the striker is shorter than Terence he always gets the ball. He will win most challenges."
Kongolo, ten months Rekik's senior, added of his colleague: "He's strong in the air, a good defender, his positional sense is perfect and strong in a one-on-one situation." As for his rest on Monday, Kongolo confirmed: "I was happy to have a rest, which is an important part of the game, and it was important we didn't pick up any cards or get any suspensions."
The pair are among six Feyenoord players in an 18-man squad which appropriately qualified for the finals in Rotterdam, and Arsenal FC midfielder Kyle Ebecilio also originated at the club. Kongolo said: "They have a good youth academy. Feyenoord are a great club but it's not the club that's important here – we are all here together, everyone is important from Ajax, Vitesse, Feyenoord..."
Certainly, the bond in the Netherlands squad has been clear both in their group base in Belgrade and now Novi Sad. "It is a strength but when the time comes for the game we concentrate," Rekik said. "There is a time for fun but there is another side, concentration on the match. We are good at switching between them."
Now it is time to concentrate on holders England, and the advice of coach Albert Stuivenberg – in his third semi-final in four years – is valuable. Kongolo said: "When we get the ball from the goalkeeper we have two against one striker, we learned that in training. When we get the ball up front, the whole defence moves into midfield, we learned that as a team in training, when the ball moves the team moves too." England are warned.
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